Building a Flexible Workplace Model in the Wake of COVID-19

By Katie Cavanaugh
September 22, 2020

Hey, we’re Robin. We teamed up with our friends at Kisi to talk about how the nature of work continues to shift under our feet in the wake of COVID-19. Our day job is workplace experience software that makes it easy for offices of all shapes and sizes to reopen and implement long-term flexible work strategies. With powerful booking tools, wayfinding capabilities, and office insights, we make it easy for workplace teams everywhere to make their office work for their people. 

COVID-19 wracked the world in so many ways. The world of work is no exception. 

Companies around the globe hustled to get their people out of the office and plugged in remotely. Over the past few months, countries and companies have moved at different paces to reintroduce people back into their offices. 

One clear lesson learned from that experience? Flexibility is key. 

The surge in remote working and move to gradually reopen offices made it clear a one-size-fits-all solution simply won’t work. Some employees are really eager to get back in the office now; recent surveys show that 50% of people want to go back to the office at least some of the time. Other people want to continue working remotely for months to come, but need the infrastructure to connect meaningfully with colleagues online. 

The workplace used to be one space: the office. Now it’s a mix of many places and things. The office, your home, distributed locations, and all the tools used to connect those disparate environments. It’s on workplace teams to think creatively to make all those pieces fit together as one harmonious workplace puzzle. 

In this post, we’ll walk through a quick guide on how to build a flexible workplace model for your company in the wake of COVID-19. 

Getting started with a flexible workplace model 

1. Flexible workplace strategies

Flexible work can mean any number of things. Depending on what makes the most sense for your people and your business goals, there are infinite ways to layer in different strategies. Consider the following when thinking through what flexibility means to your organization: 

  • Flexible work environments. As a catch-all, flexible work environments are workspaces that offer a variety of workstations for employees to pick and choose how they navigate through their work day. The antithesis of the flexible work environment is open offices with uniform bench desks or closed-plan spaces with homogenous cubicles and private offices. Often called activity-based workplaces, flexible work environments anchor on employee choice. Today, these types of workspaces are growing naturally as companies turn to repurpose meeting rooms into private offices, board rooms into extra storage areas, or set up sanitization stations throughout their floor plan. Fluid floor plans are a must. 
  • Flexible seating strategies. Often part of a varied work environment, flexible seat strategies diverge from the typical floor plan of solely assigned seats. These strategies incorporate tactics like hot desking (booking a desk for a day), desk hoteling (booking a desk for a day or days), or reverse hoteling (offering up an assigned desk when out of office). We’ve noticed a huge uptick in companies seeking flexible seating solutions to reintroduce people back into their workplaces since these types of seating strategies support employee autonomy and are easy on the admin side of things too. Once permissions are set, it’s on employees to book their seats which means minimal daily upkeep for admins.
  • Mobility and remote programs. If COVID made one thing obvious for the workplace industry, it’s the importance of flexibility outside the four walls of an office. Mobility and remote work policies empower employees to work from anywhere. As companies have started reintroducing folks back into their office, they’ve faced the novel challenge of connecting in-office employees with those at home. A thorough remote work policy can help empower distributed and hybrid teams to connect meaningfully no matter where they’re located. 
  • COVID-19-specific flexibility programs. Many organizations that abided by the stereotypical in-office, 9-5 work culture felt a wake up call when COVID-19 forced them to rethink what employee productivity really means. Many companies are now considering flexibility as a necessary means to safely reopen their office. For example, we’ve helped multiple companies reopen their doors at a reduced capacity to abide by social distancing guidelines and create plans to slowly ramp up those limitations over time while still supporting a partially remote workforce. 

Note: The best way to know which of these flexible work strategies to use is by understanding how your people work (or want to work). One way to get that information: ask them. Use an employee experience survey as supplemental information to insights gathered from your workplace tools. 

Speaking of which…  

2. Tools that power workplace flexibility 

Your flexible work strategy will only be as good as the tools that power it. Focusing on a COVID-19 response plan, there are certain workplace tools that enable a smooth transition back into the office. 

Are these part of your workplace arsenal? 

  • Security and access tools. Tools that give employees confidence stepping back into the office and admins visibility into who’s in the office when are essential. Security and access tools like Kisi enable easy health screenings to admit healthy employees and monitor capacity to stay within safe limitations. Not to mention touchless capabilities that minimize the spread of germs. Other features might be the ones related to video surveillance, that help your admin prevent rooms from overcrowding and ensure social distancing is respected.
  • Flexible floor plan management. Office management tools like Robin make it easy to map out socially-distant floor plans, keep track of conference room, desk, and space utilization through reservation-based data for simple contact tracing, and make it easy for employees to visualize their “new” office with intuitive interactive maps. 
  • Hybrid communication tools. Communication, communication, communication. The key to any flexible work strategy is the tools needed to connect teams in-office, at home, and potentially distributed around the world. Messaging apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams, and sophisticated meeting tools like Owl Labs video conferencing or Miro online collaboration tools make a huge difference. 

Note: Workplace analytics play an important role in flexible work strategies now more than ever. It’s essential for companies to monitor capacity and utilization to keep employees safe. To get an accurate view of your office, you need to know who’s present at any given moment and have access to historical trends in order to anticipate how to adapt the physical office and policies as the way your people work continues to evolve. 

For example, through badge access or desk check-in data, you can see how capacity fluctuates throughout a work week. Maybe you notice employees who opted to come into the office tend to come in at the beginning of the week. In that case, an easy flexible tactic would be keeping the office open to employees Monday through Thursday so you can power down the office for cleaning or simply minimize resources on Fridays. 

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3. Communicate a framework for flexible work

The final piece to building a flexible workplace model that works for your organization is a clear communication plan. 

The best communication plans balance organizational goals with the individual preferences of employees. We recommend putting up “guardrails” to set expectations, but then trust your people to get their work done in the way that works best from them. 

For example, HubSpot did this well when introducing their new hybrid work policy to their employees. They surveyed their people about remote working and provided a spectrum of options to choose from starting January 2021: 

  • @office (mostly in-office)
  • @flex (split between in-office, remote)
  • @home (majority remote) 

They put up the guardrails people needed to feel structure while still giving each employee the opportunity to choose their own flexible work adventure. 

Conclusion

Flexible work can mean a lot of things. This guide can help you sift through different strategies, arm yourself with the right tools, and think through a communication plan that will set your people up for success. 

COVID-19 brought a lot of change and uncertainty to the world of work, but one thing is certain: creating a flexible workplace model catered to your people and business goals will help reinstill a sense of confidence throughout your organization. 

For those who do not want to give up the advantages of going to the office, it is best to look for tech solutions that help you maintain your office safe from possible threats.

Katie Cavanaugh

Katie is Content Marketing Associate at Robin